LONDON • Dele Alli faces the prospect of disciplinary action after making a middle-fingered gesture during England's 2-1 win over Slovakia in a football World Cup qualifier on Monday.
Gareth Southgate's side came from behind, with goals from Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford, to secure a win that leaves them requiring only one win from their last two matches to book their place at the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.
But a spirited display was overshadowed by Alli's gesture.
Alli had been frustrated at perceived rough treatment from Martin Skrtel, Slovakia's former Liverpool defender, and reacted angrily when he felt he was fouled in the 76th minute.
The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was on the turf for several seconds, and after regaining his feet and discovering that no free kick had been awarded, raised his middle finger.
It was initially believed that the gesture was aimed at the referee, Clement Turpin, but Alli said it was aimed at Kyle Walker, his England team-mate who had appeared to signal towards him moments earlier.
The 21-year-old said on Twitter: "Just to clarify, the gesture tonight was a joke between me and my good friend Kyle Walker! Apologies for any offence caused!"
However Glenn Hoddle, the former England manager who was working as a pundit for ITV, said: "You can't prove it, but we know he was doing it at the referee, not Kyle Walker."
Lee Dixon, the former England full-back who was also in the ITV studio, said: "To be fair to him (Alli), if you look at Walker, he put his arms up as if he is doing something to him. His arms come up, he's saying something, there is a communication and maybe that is to (Alli)."
If the incident features in the referee's report, Alli could be charged with misconduct by Fifa and banned for one or both of England's final two qualifiers, at home to Slovenia and away to Lithuania next month. He could even miss the start of the World Cup.
Alli told Southgate afterwards that the gesture was a joke aimed at Walker, although the expression on his face was far from light-hearted. Southgate had not seen the incident when he addressed the media and so was reliant on his testimony.
"I've not seen it but I've been made aware of it," Southgate said. "Kyle and Dele were mucking about and Dele's made a gesture towards Kyle. I don't know what the angle picked up by the camera is, so I don't know if that is clear. The pair of them have a strange way of communicating, but that's what they've said when it's been raised.
"For me, what it does is detract from what was his best performance for us since I've been the manager. His work without the ball was top drawer and turning people over. He made fantastic runs behind the opposition defence and was a threat."
Southgate was more effusive in his praise for Rashford, who recovered from an inauspicious start in which his loss of possession on the edge of his own area led directly to Slovakia taking a third-minute lead, to play an instrumental role in England's comeback.
The 19-year-old forward was involved in both of England's goals, with his corner finished by Dier before he scored the winner with a powerful shot from 20 metres out.
"Marcus is such a mature character," Southgate said. "He is never in awe. He doesn't have any fear. He's still a work in progress but he's getting stronger."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE